It may seem strange, but the Bible tells us that we should be ambitious. It’s true, Christians should be ambitious people. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians that they should “be ambitious to be quiet.” That’s not typically how we think of ambition, so, what does it mean? Why are we told to be ambitious? Isn’t that wrong? Let’s look and see what the text says.
Paul has previously instructed the saints in Thessalonica to control their bodies and avoid lust (1 Thessalonians 4.5). Christians have the same emotions and desires as anyone else, but we should master them. All our desires and emotions – including anger, jealousy, and hate – have their origin in God’s creation. When God made us in his image, he also made us capable of expressing the same, full range of emotions he has. Our concern isn’t the presence of emotions and desires in our hearts because God put them there. Our concern is, however, what we will do with them.
Christians want to bring God glory, but the pull of self is ever present, always threatening to steal our affections away from God. Our selfish ambitions well up inside us, and we long to impact the world, to be remembered by history, and to do something spectacular with our lives. We want our story to be about us. We want to make something of ourselves. We want to be glorified and loved and adored. In short, we want for ourselves all the things God rightly deserved. Selfish ambition is the heart of idolatry.
We must resolve to use our emotions for the good, God-given reasons they are present. We must be willing to control ourselves and make God’s priorities our own. This, ultimately, is what separates the faithful from the wayward: the willingness to listen, trust and do what God says.
This willingness to use God’s creation correctly is what separates the faithful from the lost. We must learn to listen to God, receive his instructions, and then put those things into practice. So how do we use our ambition to serve God? According to Paul, we learn to be ambitious for the right things, including “being quiet.”
Being quiet is the polar opposite of our culture. We are a loud country. We make much of ourselves. Our favorite past times are taking selfies (I’m still amazed that’s a word) and yelling at people who disagree with us. The American Dream is to be famous, successful, and wealthy. The more noise we make and disrupt norms, the more successful we feel and laud our self-righteous accomplishments. These things are not Biblical, and we must come to know that our culture’s goals and God’s goals are not typically the same thing. The truth is that our carnal, worldly, and selfish ambitions do not fit into Christianity. No matter how some may try, we cannot force our lusts and selfish ambitions into the doctrine of Christ.
Again, the Bible never pretends Christians lack these ambitions. The Good Book deals quite honestly with our physical and emotional shortcomings, telling us they are perversions of what God created for good. God tells us directly where we tend to fail and what needs to be improved. The question is: will we listen to God and change ourselves to fit his desire for our lives?
Our ambition, as followers of Christ, is to make God known. There is no greater, more lasting work we can accomplish than sharing Jesus with people. We need to shine our lights, doing good works so people can see the Lord (cf Matthew 5.16). We should strive to live quiet, peaceful lives, diligently working to store spiritual treasure.
Will we miss opportunities? Yes, there will be opportunities we don’t realize. The gospel comes with consequences. However, anything we “miss out on” here, is money stored in our spiritual bank. We aren’t citizens of this place anyway, but of our real home: heaven.